50 Years of Magic with the Cinderella Castle

A look into the iconic transformations of the Walt Disney World castle throughout the years.

Ashleigh Thorson, Staff Writer

For over 50 years, the Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom Park in Walt Disney World has been a gateway to Fantasyland as well as a parkwide landmark. It welcomes guests daily into a magical world of fantasy; however, over the years it has undergone many transformations. 

1971: The start of it all 

The Cinderella Castle standing at 189 feet tall with it’s soaring spires and elaborate turrets, debuted at the October 1971 opening of Walt Disney World Resort. 

The inspiration for the design of Cinderella Castle goes back to France. Groups of designers studied famous French palaces and castles, including the chateaus of Chambord, Chaumont, and Chenonceau, and Versailles.  The original designs of the castle in the 1950 “Cinderella” film are also referenced in the Cinderella Castle.  

There are five vibrant mosaic murals displayed in the castle to tell the story of the princess, featuring thousands of pieces of glass and even including pieces of real silver and gold. 

On opening day, King Stefan’s Banquet Hall restaurant stood at parapet level which guests could access through a winding stairway or a modern lift. They could dine beneath medieval arches in a picturesque royalty atmosphere. 

1996-1997: The sweetest 25th anniversary celebration

For the 25th anniversary of Walt Disney World, the Cinderella Castle was transformed into the Cinderella Castle Cake. While it may not have been a fan favorite, it was surely a transformation not to be forgotten. 

Disney wanted to go all out for the 25th anniversary, and they sure delivered. From a marketing standpoint, the castle was genius. Their goal was to reach as many guests and fans as possible to spread the magic for this celebration.

The recipe for this cake included 400 plus gallons of candy-coating paint in three shades of pink, 120 plus pieces of giant candy, 26 giant candles, hundreds of vivid sprinkles, and 1,000 plus feet of inflatable “icing” decoration. 

This celebration lasted for 15 months and was surely very sweet!

1997: Disney Transforms King Stefan’s Banquet Hall

Many avid Disney fans often wondered why King Stefan’s Banquet Hall occupied the inside of the castle, since King Stefan is the father of Princess Aurora in “Sleeping Beauty.” This year signified the renaming of the restaurant to Cinderella’s Royal Table. 

The newly revamped restaurant offered lunch or dinner during a one-of-a-kind fairytale dining experience for guests, encompassed by regal medieval flags and striking stained glass windows overlooking Fantasyland. 

2005: Honoring The Happiest Celebration on Earth

For the “Happiest Celebration on Earth” event, all Disney parks around the world honored the 50th anniversary of Disneyland Resort. Cinderella’s Castle underwent a golden-hue makeover. 

This transformation would include golden trim added to the castle, rose swags, and spiraling cords of “pixie dust” along the spires. Sculptures featuring the characters of several classic films including Cheshire Cat from “Alice and Wonderland,” Flounder and Sebastian from “The Little Mermaid,” and Pumbaa, Simba, and Timon from “The Lion King” could be seen surrounding the castle. A display of a stained glass-style window full of all the colorful images from the iconic Disney Parks castles around the world was a show stopper. 

This stunning gold makeover lasted for 18 months for the celebration marking the 50 years of Disney theme park magic. 

2006-2007: A year of a million dreams 

Randomly selected guests by special Walt Disney World Cast Members, called the Dream Squad, won prizes during the Year of a Million Dreams event. This included exclusive FastPass tickets, special merchandise, or a night in the newly established Cinderella Castle Suite. 

Within this one-of-a-kind suite, guests could relax in a magnificent royal bedroom chamber, a bathroom to match with dazzling chandeliers and a lavish tube surrounded by mosaics. The suite also included windows that tell the story of Cinderella and provided breath-taking park views. 

For the first time that year as well, Cinderella Castle was transformed into the astonishing ice palace for the holidays. Show engineers worked hard to add new special effects to the castle, bathing it in 200,000 shimmering white lights, blowing guests away.

Young guests could experience head-to-toe transformations for the first time in 2007 when the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique opened. Elegant princesses and knights could be seen waltzing around the park with costumes, hairstyles, and accessories after leaving the magical shop.

2011-2012: Adding Projection Mapping to the Displays

“The Magic, The Memories and You!” show was the first nighttime spectacular at Walt Disney World to use projection mapping. 

This technique uses video projectors to transform irregular shaped objects into a display surface for video projection. This nighttime spectacular took guests to another place when the castle turned into a panorama of Disney characters and stores, along with the music and special effects. 

2021: Present Day Magic for the 50th Anniversary

For The World’s Most Magical Celebration event at the Walt Disney World Resort, the Cinderella Castle has been transformed and includes inspiration from Disney legend Mary Blair’s vision of the classic “Cinderella” film. 

Walt Disney Imagineers have created a special EARidescent color scheme, featuring new colors, gold details, and vibrant hues. The castle is now decked in regal and bold enhancements, a royal blue jewel, and glimmering draping. A sapphire dusting of sparkle on the blue rooftops and gold trim makes the classic spires enchanting in the sun. 

The Cinderella Castle can be virtually transfigured into an expanded reality photo mosaic, filled with memories from guests. This feature is a thrilling collaboration between Disney PhotoPass service and Snapchat and is available on the My Disney Experience app. 

Through the years, the Cinderella Castle has undergone many transformations and makeovers, from a giant birthday cake to the dazzling regal castle it is today, and will continue to be an iconic landmark resort wide for the many years to come!